The State of Flow

Have you ever been so involved in doing something that you completely lost track of time? Where everything going around you just seemed to fade into the background. Where you felt focused, energized, even joyful, about what you were doing.

Chances as you have probably had this experience at some point in your life. Psychologists call this state of mind "Flow." When we find ourselves in this state, we lose our sense of self, and move forward on instinct, completely devoted to the task before us.

But just what is Flow? And how can you get to experience this state more often, so you can be more productive?

The Flow Model

The Flow Model was first introduced by positive psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience."

The model below shows the different emotional states we might experience when trying to complete a task. The state we end up in depends on both the difficulty of the challenge, and on our skill levels.

Common sense tells us this is true; if a task isn't challenging and doesn't require a lot of skill, we're likely to get bored. But on the other side facing a very difficult task without the skills needed will make us stressed and worried.

To find a balance, and to perform at our best, we need a challenge that we find interesting, and we need to be confident that we have the skills to meet the challenge. This moves us to a position where we can be completely engaged with the activity and experience "flow".

10 Components of Flow

How do you know when you're experiencing flow? Here are 10 experiences that give away when you’re in state of flow:
1. Having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.
2. Being able to concentrate for a sustained period of time.
3. Losing the feeling of consciousness of one's self.
4. Finding that time passes quickly.
5. Getting direct and immediate feedback.
6. Experiencing a balance between your ability levels, and the challenge.
7. Having a sense of personal control over the situation.
8. Feeling that the activity is intrinsically rewarding.
9. Lacking awareness of bodily needs.
10. Being completely absorbed in the activity itself.

Three Conditions

If you want to enter a state of flow, these three conditions should be present:
1. Goals – Goals add motivation and structure to what you're doing. Whether you're learning a new piece of music or creating a presentation, you must be working towards a goal to experience flow.
2. Balance – There must be a good balance between your perceived skill and the perceived challenge of the task. If one of these weighs more heavily than the other, flow probably won't occur.
3. Feedback – You must have clear, immediate feedback, so that you can make changes and improve your performance. This can be feedback from other people, or the awareness that you're making progress with the task.

Using the Flow Model

To improve your chances of experiencing flow, try the following:
• Set goals – Goal setting is important in experiencing flow. Learning to set effective goals can help you achieve the focus you need. You can see tips and tricks on setting goals here.
• Improve your concentration – Many things may distract you from your work, and achieving flow is more difficult when your focus is interrupted. Try using this technique to improve your concentration so that you're more productive and focused during the day.
• Build self-confidence – If you don't have confidence in your skills, tasks may seem much harder than they actually are. Try using some positive affirmations to improve your self-confidence.

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